NEWS DAY | The flu or the weather? / God’s bank closed / Under the radar and off the web / more

SH-Med-syringe-082204-4The flu or the weather? Everybody’s talking about them, and nobody seems able to do much about the course that either will take. This week’s forecast: rising flu saturation throughout the state, with a continuing shortage of flu shots.

Crookston schools closed Wednesday, as 15 percent of the districts 1,270 students were out with the flu, according to Minnesota 2020. Some 210 schools across the state reported flu outbreaks October 4-10, according to the Minnesota Department of Health’s most recent figures, up 72 percent over the preceding week. The MN 2020 article has more recent reports from a dozen schools across the state.

A 54-year-old Waseca hospital administrator died Saturday night, after an H1N1 diagnosis, reports MPR. It’s not yet clear whether H1N1 was the cause of death. The Minnesota Department of Health has confirmed 10 deaths due to H1N1 and others are under investigation.

The Star Tribune reports that H1N1 is keeping lawyers busy. That doesn’t sound like a logical connection, but the story is that employment lawyers are getting queries from businesses about what kind of workplace rules they can establish — Can they require vaccination? Do they have to pay people who are sick but have no sick days? And so on.

President Obama declared  a national state of emergency Saturday, in regard to the H1N1 flu. According to the Washington Post, the declaration will allow greater flexibility for hospitals to respond:

The president granted Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius the power to lift some federal regulations for medical providers, including allowing hospitals to set up off-site facilities to increase the number of available beds and protect patients who are not infected.

Oh, and that weather forecast? WCCO says rain possible by Wednesday, staying through Friday, with temps above freezing until Saturday.

God’s bank closed, others on watch list
Riverview Community Bank failed Friday, becoming the fifth Minnesota bank and the 106th U.S. bank to be closed this year. MPR reports that the bank’s owner had claimed divine backing:

When Riverview opened in March 2003, co-founder Chuck Ripka told the Pioneer Press that God told him to get the bank going.

“He said, ‘Chuck, if you do all the things I told you to do, I promise you I will take care of the bottom line,”‘ Ripka said in 2004.

The bank was cited by the FDIC in June for “unsafe and unsound” banking practices, according to the Minnesota Independent. Former MN secretary of state Mary Kiffmeyer was on the bank’s board of directors.

According to MPR, bank regulators from the MN Department of Commerce said in October that 71 of the state’s banks, some 22 percent of the total, are on a watch list. That’s up from 65 on the watch list in the spring. Riverview’s two branches were set to reopen on Saturday as branches of Stillwater-based Central Bank.

The City Miracles blog wrote about the bank in 2004:

One of the key indicators of the success of the Elk River prototype, and a component of the detonation process, has been Riverview Community Bank. This bank, founded in March, 2003, has accumulated $100 million in deposits in 28 months, making it one of the fasted growing start-up banks in the history of the State of Minnesota. During this period 100 people have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord during banking hours. Additionally, 70 people have been healed when they received prayer at the bank. The New York Times wrote a ten-page article about this bank in their Sunday Magazine published on October 31, 2004.


Under the radar and off the web
In a print-edition-only article Sunday, the Star Tribune reported the latest on a fraudulent currency investment program promoted by Twin Cities money managers that swindled investors across the United States, Europe and Latin America. According to the Strib, “complaints have flowed into federal authorities” since at least last November. In July, nine people from Ohio filed suit in Minneapolis federal court, and since then the feds have been investigating through the SEC and a grand jury. At that time, the Star Tribune reported:

Two Ohio families and their pastor filed a federal lawsuit in Minneapolis this week accusing some “confusingly intertwined” Twin Cities investment advisers and a dozen business entities of fraud, misrepresentation and other breaches in the handling of their life savings.

The eight plaintiffs claimed Trevor Cook, 37, of Burnsville and Gerald Durand, 58, of Lakeville persuaded them to invest nearly $5 million in a currency arbitrage program that guaranteed instant liquidity and promised annual returns of 10.5 to 12 percent

According to several sources, the Department of Justice simply does not have enough experienced staff members to keep up with complex financial fraud cases. Maybe they should hire the Strib’s Dan Browning, who has reported extensively on the story, following the money trail from Minnesota to California to Panama. Browning’s reporting is a textbook example of the need for full-time, salaried investigative reporters. Few if any free-lancers or bloggers could afford to devote as much investigative and reporting time to this story that he has done, and that time is needed to produce comprehensive coverage of a real public menace.

The October 25 article says that Jerry Watkins used his “Your Money matters” radio show to recruit investors for Oxford Global Advisors, and that the firm was also promoted by Minneapolis money manager Trevor Cook, Burnsville radio talk show host Pat Kiley (“Follow the Money”), and associates at “a number of Twin Cities business entities that have Oxford, Universal Brokerage or the initials UB in their names.” The investments were also promoted on the Worldwide Christian Radio shortwave network. Watkins continued to promote the schemes and take people’s money, even while awaiting sentencing in Minneapolis on “an unrelated scheme that had bilked $20 million from investors,” which was run by Forest Lake preacher Neulan Midkiff.

Christopher Bebel, a former SEC attorney and federal prosecutor, said:

“I’d have to say that this case is especially appallling because it’s an affinity fraud in the sense that it focuses on investors who have their guard down because of the trusting environment–the Christian radio network that was utilized.”

National/International news

Zimbabwe Some 50 government soldiers were sent to search and ransack the offices of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, headed by Prime Minister Mogan Tsvangirai. AP notes:

The raid signals the fragility of Zimbabwe’s unity government and undoubtedly will worsen the already bitter relationship between President Robert Mugabe and the prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mr. Mugabe was forced into a power-sharing government with Mr. Tsvangirai, a longtime opposition leader, after disputed elections. Mr. Tsvangirai withdrew from the coalition government on Oct. 16.

War Reports

Afghanistan Fopurteen U.S. soldiers and civilians were killed in two helicopter crashes, reports NPR. In the south, two helicopters collided. In the west, the helicopter had left an area of heavy fighting, but U.S. officials said it was not shot down. Two other U.S. troops died on Sunday, bringing the total number for October to 46 so far. August was the worst month for U.S. combat deaths, with 51.

Run-off elecdtions scheduled for November 8 have been agreed to by both President Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah. But now, reports BBC, Abdullah Abdullah is demanding the removal of the head of the election commission. That commission presided over and tried to deny the massive fraud in the August 20 elections.

Iraq car bombs kill more than 150 Two car bombs in Baghdad killed at least 155 people on Sunday, and wounded at least 500 more, reports BBC. The bombs “hit the ministry of justice and a provincial government office near the heavily fortified Green Zone” during the morning rush hour, in the deadliest attack since April 2007. Analysts fear a ramping up of violence will continue as the January elections approach.

Pakistan army claims gains After a week of the offensive in South Waziristan, the Pakistan army says it has captured Kotkai. The New York Times explains:

The town, Kotkai, most of whose 5,000 residents had already fled, is the home of the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, and one of the most feared Taliban commanders, Qari Hussain.

As fighting continued in South Waziristan, NPR reported that violence still wracks the rest of the country, with Friday bombings killing 24 people, including 17 who were on their way to a wedding. The army claims a total death toll during the South Waziristan offensive of 23 soldiers and 163 militants. Because access to the area is restricted, no independent verification is possible.

According to McClatchey news service, one of Friday’s car bombs exploded outside a suspected nuclear weapons facility, the airbase at Kamra.

Al Qaida has made clear its ambitions to get hold of a nuclear bomb or knowledge of nuclear technology. Several other sites associated with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons have been hit previously.

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